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Richard Rapport qualifies for the final of the FIDE Grand Prix Belgrade 2022

The second round of FIDE Grand Prix Belgrade semifinals saw two draws. After yesterday’s win in round 1, Hungarian Richard Rapport secured a place in the finals by holding Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to a draw in a very exciting game that saw lots twists and turns.

Following a draw in the first round of the semi-finals, Dmitry Andreikin and Anish Giri split a point again. In the Queen’s Pawn Opening, Andreikin played 3.b3, going for a less common line, used by Vladimir Kramnik against Alexander Grischuk in the 2016 Candidates tournament. Andreikin also tested this system against Salem Saleh in a blitz game back in 2019 and won convincingly. Speaking about the 3.b3 line in the post-game analysis, Andreikin referred to the game between Kramnik and Grischuk in 2016. As destiny would have it, Giri was Kramnik’s second at that event and, as he said, “Kramnik tortured me with that position.”

However, Giri avoided all the troubles after 12.Nb1, as White allowed Black to place his knight on e4, forcing exchanges. The position was immediately even and remained so until the end of the game.

Following exchanges of two minor pieces, Giri put his queen on g5 aiming for White’s weak e3-pawn. Andreikin had to advance his e-pawn trading the queens and the game steered into calm, drawish waters.

White managed to achieve a pawn majority on the queenside but it did not promise much. Overall, Black was on the good side of equality thanks to a solid pawn structure and well-coordinated pieces. Following a repetition of moves, a draw was agreed on move 32.

In the post-game analysis, the players agreed that Black has a slight edge but that the position offered both sides a big margin of safety.

The two will be playing in the tie-break on Friday, 11th March.

Unlike the first semi-final game where both sides had some good chances to play for a win, today’s game was quieter. However, the two sides will be under more pressure on Friday as they will have less time to think and calculate. So far, the two played one rapid game and it ended in a draw.

“I have a great feeling about tomorrow. Giri is a slight favourite as he had practise in the rapid with Magnus Carlsen’s series. I will try to show my best”, said Andreikin. Giri responded by mentioning that his opponent went to the finals of the 2021 World Cup after winning all the tiebreaks, “so I’d say I’m the underdog. However, I should be able to give a good fight”.

The second game of the semi-finals was more exciting, as Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had to win, given that he suffered a defeat in the first encounter.

As expected, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who was leading white pieces in today’s game, came into the match swinging. In the Improved Steinitz of the Ruy Lopez, White got the initiative early on in the game, castling quickly and preparing an attack on Black’s kingside. The first critical moment was on move 11 where Vachier-Lagrave spent nearly 35 minutes thinking about the move 11.g3.

It seems that Rapport was first to surprise his opponent, introducing a novelty 12…Qd7, which is the first line of Stockfish. The Frenchman continued to play aggressively but it looks like he overstretched himself with the move 13.f5 (13.Qd3 or 13.Nc3 were better options), allowing Black to equalise.

Black quickly jumped at the opportunity to blunt White’s advances by exchanging queens and a couple of minor pieces on the kingside. By move 22 the game transpired into an even endgame where each side had a knight and two rooks. A draw, so much needed for the Hungarian, was within his reach, but Rapport’s decision to castle long allowed the Frenchman to push his pawns and create some play on the queenside.

In the subsequent manoeuvring Black deserted his king on the queenside but doubled the rooks along the h-file, hoping to get to White’s monarch. However, the computer analysis suggests that White is clearly better in this position.

The Frenchman was carrying out his attack brilliantly finding several the only moves. Rapport lost his a-pawn and exposed his king to checks which he used to push him forward, further into dangerous territory. By move 43, White had a dominant position.

However, now it was the Frenchman’s time to err as he did not find a subtle 44.b3 and allowed Black to capture White’s last remaining pawn on the queenside and activate his c-passer. Within seven moves, Vachier-Lagrave completely dropped the advantage and the position was again even despite White’s extra exchange. Rapport was on the brink of saving half a point again and with it – a pass to the finals, avoiding tiebreaks.

This time around the Hungarian did not waste this golden opportunity. Black eventually managed to promote his c-pawn, for which White had to give up a rook. MVL dangerously advanced his central pawns but Rapport had his own trump, namely another c-passer rushing to the first rank. Rapport demonstrated precise calculation in this pawn race: as soon as both sides promoted queens, it turned out that White could not avoid a perpetual without worsening his position. This hard-fought draw propelled Richard Rapport to the final.

The tiebreaks

The tiebreaks take place on Friday, 11th March, at 3 PM local (CET) time. Following the drawing of lots, Dmitry Andreikin will be leading the white pieces in the first rapid game.

According to the regulations, the players will play two rapid games (15 minutes for each player + 10 seconds increment per move, starting from move one). If the scores are level after the rapid games, then after a new drawing of colours, two games shall be played with a time control of 3 minutes for each player + 2 seconds increment per move, starting from move one. If the score is still level after the Blitz games, then one sudden-death game shall be played.

Leading partners supporting the FIDE Grand Prix Series 2022 include:

Kaspersky as the Official Cybersecurity Partner;

Algorand as the Official Blockchain Partner;

Prytek as the Technology Transfer Partner;

FIDE Online Arena as the official Partner.

Text: Milan Dinic
Photo: Mark Livshitz

Official Photo FIDE Grand Prix Belgrade Press kit

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